Written by Leonie Kr..
In literature, film, and tv, the core task of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is to help the male underdog protagonist grow and find self-confidence through her love and, more importantly, her unconditional attention. She is adventurous, whimsical, exciting. The sheer fact that she could be interested, of all people, in a guy like him lifts her into the sphere of idealization and romanticization. Throughout my adult dating experience, I have repeatedly been reduced to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope.
My favorite example of this character is Summer from (500) Days of Summer. From the moment she is introduced, she is not characterized through her own values and worldview, but rather through the enamouring effect she has on others.
From the moment she is introduced, she is not characterized through her own values and worldview, but rather through the enamouring effect she has on others.
Similarly, many of my dating experiences have involuntarily put me in this category due to the ‘nerdy but feminine,’ ‘free-spirited yet still relatable’ persona I seem to portray in the early stages of a relationship. A Manic Pixie’s character is utterly performative, despite its air of careless abandon and seeming lack of self-awareness – she is a fictional trope, after all. However, I am not purposefully trying to perform a character. Rather, the role is put upon me like a snugly fitting costume.
I once was told that if I could do a handstand, that’d be the last frontier to making me perfect. A weird and, after some thought, uncomfortable thing to be told. Because it is a show of approval hidden behind the veneer of a compliment that also allows me no room to grow or develop into a full, flawed human being within the relationship, because any deviation from this perfect image means loss and failure.
In the same vein, my bisexuality has often been labeled “hot” and exciting by men around me. Because bisexuality inevitably seems to carry clichéd connotations of sexual adventurousness as it has been presented in trashy college wish-fulfillment movies since their inception. The possibility of my finding an authentic connection with another woman is completely overshadowed by ideas of how I might make their sex life more stimulating.
It is mind-numbingly uninventive and childish. But more than that, there is always a strong yet innocuous-seeming undercurrent of power dynamics in these dating situations. The question becomes what the facets of my being can offer him. Where can he find validation, be it for his obscure interests or for himself as a whole? I am the spark to kickstart his emotional growth. And the person he sees himself as post-growth is the yardstick for how much work he still needs to invest in his personal development. What becomes barely an afterthought is the effort that I need from a partner. My own emotional depth and my romantic (and, let’s be honest, sexual) needs have turned, if anything, into an off-putting nuisance.
All too often I get the feeling that they view themselves as the protagonist while I am reduced to an exciting stepping stone on their emotional coming-of-age journey.
Thus, my initial naïve enjoyment of superficial curiosity and of being seen as ‘intriguing’ has quickly lost its glamour. Because the men I dated did not truly want to know how my past experiences have shaped me, why I started and then stopped to learn Japanese, what makes my favourite movie meaningful to me, or what inspires me to write poetry. They care that these interests are just this side of unique so they can a) boast about their own underappreciated uniqueness and b) feel haughty about having found a romantic partner who’s “not like other girls.” All too often I get the feeling that they view themselves as the protagonist while I am reduced to an exciting stepping stone on their emotional coming-of-age journey.
All that being said, I do not (entirely) blame these men for trying to put me in the Manic Pixie box. As vague of an antagonist as ‘media’ may seem, I do believe that we are all products of the media we consume. Hell, in the last few paragraphs alone I have made countless references to the language of storytelling in order to navigate and convey my worldview.
About the Author
Leonie Kr. (she/her) is a passionate blogger and less passionate master’s student in English literature. As she is procrastinating her thesis, she dabbles in poetry, photography, and learning languages. Living in Vienna, Austria, she is surrounded by a thriving international community in which she loves to pursue her favorite past time: flirting.